As reported in the Guardian:
“Andrew Lansley, the leader of the house, hinted at a partial retreat over new anti-lobbying laws as MPs condemned what they described as a “sinister” attempt to gag charities.
MPs variously described the proposed laws as a “dog’s breakfast” and a “mess” over concerns that it could stop charities taking part in national debate in the year before an election. They also said it could prevent MPs from lobbying ministers about national issues such as fracking or HS2.
In a fiery debate, Lansley was accused of having his fingerprints on another piece of “badly-drafted” legislation – two years after he faced similar criticisms over the controversial health reforms.
Lansley insisted there was no need for alarm over the bill, but hinted there could be a climbdown on some parts of its wording. “If there is any doubt about whether MPs might in any form, in relation to their activities in this house, be included or compromised in relation to this, we will put a specific provision into the bill to make sure that this doesn’t happen,” he said.
Whitehall sources also suggested the government could be open to changes. “We’ve always said we’re happy to listen, we’ve always said what’s important is making sure we’ve got a system that works,” one said.
However, Lansley appeared unwilling to move over new restrictions on election campaigning, saying they were necessary to stop vested interests distorting results. Under the new laws third parties will be able to spend £390,000 on campaigning, rather than the current limit of £989,000, in the year before an election. On top of this, the bill widens the definition of what counts as political campaigning to anything that would influence a result, regardless of its purpose. Items such as staff costs, advertising, and rallies will also be included in regulated campaign expenditure for the first time.
Lansley said: “All the bill does, which is the right thing to do, is to make sure that the limit is a more appropriate limit for the future and doesn’t allow those third parties to engage in distorting activity in relation to elections.”
Angela Eagle, Labour’s shadow leader of the house, branded the bill “inadequate, sinister and partisan”, describing it as “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen any government produce in a very long time”.
The former Conservative minister David Davis said the bill appeared to have been drawn up in excessive haste, while Tracey Crouch, Tory MP for Chatham and Aylesford, asked for an explanation of “how or why this bill will not gag charities as many would fear”.
However, others agreed with its aims of restricting lobbying by campaign groups, with Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg calling it “an excellent, measured, balanced bill”.
The Electoral Commission warned the new spending limits could mean it would have to ask groups in breach of the law to take down blogs or stop political rallies. The watchdog said the bill would create a high degree of uncertainty.”